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What the deuce happened?! 2006 Running Back Review

I will be doing a position-by-position 2007 Season Review of the Washington Redskins in the coming days/weeks/whenever-I-damn-well-feel-like-it. We'll start with the offense and then move on to the (yikes) defense. Enjoy!

Quarterback Review

In 2002 we drafted Ladell Betts without really knowing what we had. He spent a year behind Stephen Davis and then, inexplicably, a year behind Trung Canidate (what happened to him?). Then the Redskins traded Champ Bailey for Clinton Portis and, once again, Ladell Betts found himself chasing another player. Worse still was when the Redskins, again inexplicably, traded the equivalent of a 3rd round draft pick to the Denver Broncos for TJ Duckett.

To recap: He played behind Stephen Davis, Trung Canidate, and Clinton Portis. We sat on this guy for 4 years before he was finally given the opportunity to carry this team and what did he do with that opportunity?

Six 100 yard games on the year, five of them in a row. Should've been six except he had 92 in our finale against the Giants. Career high 1154 yards and a 4.7 YPC average (including a 5.0 average in December) -- 10th best in the league. All in all a stellar year for Betts.

His only shortcoming, which I've documented elsewhere is his inability to find the endzone or break for big runs. Betts only had 4 touchdowns in 2006 and his career longest rush is less than 30 yards.

But we have a solution for that in 2007, that is if we don't trade it away. Clinton Portis is an excellent back, but he excels in two areas particularly. One is the endzone; as Master4Caster recently reminded me, despite an injury shortened season Clinton Portis led the team in touchdowns. He had 7 on 127 carries vs. Betts 4 on 245 carries. Though we moved the ball well late last season, we were miserable in the red zone. Portis could fix all that with a few red zone carries (I don't know why, the guy simply finds the endzone). Not to mention he can change the entire tempo of a game by breaking a big run (the other area he excels in), much like he did in his first rush as a Redskin, when he broke for 64 yards against the Tampa Bay Bucs. We won that game.

All of this is to say that we have about as potent a one-two punch in the backfield as any team in the league, and an overabundance of quality running backs is the kind of problem teams wish they had. Especially a Joe Gibbs team which is centered on the run. Should CP or Betts go down with injury, fans can remain calm and confident that this team will still be able to drill the ball successfully down the field, tiring out the opposing defense all the live long day.

Can we forget Mike Sellers? The man is a behemoth to run behind. Admittedly he had a quiet year in 2006 statistically (1 touchdown vs. the 8 he scored in 2005), but he was receiving high praise all year for plowing through opposing defenses. He should get the opportunity to carry more on short yardage, and I wish we'd utilize him in red zone passing more as we did to great effect in '05. But where I look forward to seeing him most is a few yards in front of Betts and Portis. Also Mike Sellers eats children with forks made from Unicorn bones. His electric toothbrush runs off the sound of puppies whimpering. He isn't even scared of this.

Was all well in Washington in 2006? No, and there isn't any point ignoring the bad and the truly bad. First the aforementioned red zone offense could not score touchdowns, and some of that criticism should be carried by our running backs.

But the truly bad, embarrassing 2006 gaffe was our fumbling of the TJ Duckett trade. As The Curly R reminded us weekly in their TJ Duckett Watch, we traded away a 3rd round pick for nothing. Final damning numbers: 38 carries, 132 yards, 2 touchdowns. For this we gave away a 3rd round draft pick (Chris Cooley was a 3rd round pick).

There were a number of offseason missteps: Adam Archuleta and Brandon Lloyd come to mind. But neither of those has reached negative mass yet. Adam Archuleta could (though I ain't betting on it) have a big 2007. Brandon Lloyd could rebound for a big year, earning his contract.

TJ Duckett is going to walk in 2007. He can void the final year of his contract and test free agency. Nothing he does in the future will vindicate our decision to bring him in for a 3rd round pick; if he fails it will reflect on our inability to evaluate free agent talent adequately. If he succeeds we'll be wrong for not keeping him around or utilizing him more often in 2006.

Rather than dwell on the bad (and ramble on further), let's close this up with the facts. In a year of disappointment, the Washington Redskins were the fourth best rushing team in the league despite having to learn an entirely new offensive scheme and playing half the season with a rookie QB. I'm salivating at the prospect of CP running behind our new zone-blocking offensive line schemata. The Redskins rushed for 2216 yards in 2006, the most in over 20 years.

So what you're saying is... Keep Portis and Ladell Betts. This is a two headed monster of a rushing attack that I want to see throughout 2007 shredding opposing offenses and wearing them out during the game. Our zone blocking had much to do with our 2006 success, so let's give two well-rested and talented backs the opportunity to exploit that fully. Betts will push us down the field when CP is tired, and Portis will get us into the endzone and break games wide open with his ability to get through the opposing secondary. Our only weakness, scoring rushing touchdowns, should be fixed by next year when Portis returns healthy. Hail to the Running Backs.

2006 Position Grade -- A-

2007 Position Prediction -- A to A+